Posts Tagged ‘Clube da Esquina’

Autumn in Minas Gerais: Part I

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Outono em Minas Gerais: Parte Um

Evening in Ouro Preto with Jaimie

One of my goals here in Minas Gerais has been to try to get a broad understanding of the types of cultural production that involve music-making. Though my research focuses on the Clube da Esquina—a musical collective often categorized as MPB (música popular brasileira)—I am devoted to investigating the many musical manifestations in Brazil and Minas Gerais that influenced their output.

One of those influences comes from Catholic religious celebrations. During Semana Santa (Holy Week), I traveled to two colonial cities in Minas Gerais in order to learn more about the importance of Catholicism in civic life. First, I took my dear friend Jaimie to Ouro Preto.

Ouro Preto celebrated its 300th anniversary this year (1711 – 2011). Its original name was Vila Rica (Rich Village) due to its status as the center of Brazil’s gold rush and was the capital of Minas Gerais for much of the 19th century, well before Belo Horizonte (the current capital) was constructed. Today, Ouro Preto teams with domestic and international tourists, stumbling through the many ladeiras (steep streets; or literally, ladders) to museums, churches, and shops.

Looking down the "ladder", or ladeira, past the Casa da Ópera (in yellow), the oldest working concert hall in the Americas

Although Jaimie and I ventured into museums and a few shops, my willing assistant accompanied me on at least three of the many processões (processions) scheduled throughout Semana Santa. We arrived on Saturday afternoon, the day before Domingo dos Ramos (Palm Sunday). After checking into a modest, but very well-kept pousada (bed and breakfast), we climbed our way back up to Praça Tiradentes (the central town square) in search of the first of many processions.

We wandered down a few winding streets and found the Matriz Nossa Senhora do Pilar (head church, or also womb, of Our Lady of Pilar). At 7 pm, the church was already overflowing with a softly buzzing swarm of worshippers. The priest gave a brief sermon introducing Holy Week, and then unveiled a wooden image of Jesus Christ inside of a purple-cloaked dais.

Priest blessing the image of Jesus Christ with smoke

Image of Jesus Christ leaving the Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar

The churches in Ouro Preto share the responsibility and honor of hosting the images of Jesus Christ and Mary. This night, the image of Jesus Christ was carried through the steep and winding streets of Ouro Preto to arrive at Santuário da Imaculada Conceição (Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception).

Church volunteers carried the dais while followers filled the narrow, cobbled streets from door to door. A city band in navy uniforms accompanied the procession playing religious hymns. Marching over the uneven ground at night and reading the sheet music attached to the musician’s backs certainly made for challenging music-making (and photography—my apologies), but ouropretanos are used to scaling these streets.

Processão with the image of Jesus Christ at left in purple

City band marching under onlookers leaning out open windows

Two things particularly struck me about this event. First, the processão seemed to be an event for generations to gather together. I saw granddaughters assisting very elderly grandmothers over the cobblestones, nephews walking with uncles, and parents greeting children arriving from other cities in Minas Gerais who had come home for the holiday week.

Second, despite these encounters, the followers were solemn. Mineiros (residents of Minas Gerais), and brasileiros in general, greet family and friends with enthusiasm! But, this night was muted and reserved for an internalized religiosity.

My subsequent travel to São João del Rei would be a very different experience.

Arrival at Santuário da Imaculada Conceição


Tanta contramão

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

I am riding through Belo Horizonte, and Robson is driving. This means two things: we are laughing a lot and we are getting lost. In fact, we are laughing because we are getting lost, or getting lost because we are laughing. Peripheral activities include singing along with the radio, my yelling frantic directions at Robson, and mutual bickering in a halting combination of Portuguese and English.

I have never driven myself anywhere in Brazil. After a serious head-on collision stateside in 2004, driving in unfamiliar places makes me nervous. Other peoples’ driving makes me nervous too, but at least I don’t feel responsible for any unexpected outcome. My discomfort with driving, however, does not stop me from having opinions about how it should be done, sometimes to the irritation of others.

Our trip began in Anchieta, a neighborhood to the southeast of Belo Horizonte, where I rent a room from a group of nice girls. Our destination was a neighborhood to the southwest of Belo Horizonte, where I was to interview one of the founding members of the Clube da Esquina. I had written out instructions from GoogleMaps to guarantee that we arrived on time, but Robson–as he himself would tell you–doesn’t trust my sense of direction and headed due north into centro.

Though Belo Horizonte originated as a farm settlement called Curral do Rei, the centro (downtown) of Belo Horizonte was planned in the 1890s in homenagem to Washington DC. Both cities feature wide boulevards, a grid layout, and several roundabouts. Parks with statues serve as centerpieces of the urban landscape and are often named after historical figures and events.

Washington DC is well-known for its street names: east-west streets are letter names (e.g. J Street) while north-south streets are numbered (e.g. 14th Street). City planner Aarão Reis envisioned a less utilitarian, more nationalistic, naming system for Belo Horizonte: east-west streets are named after indigenous Brazilian groups (e.g. Rua dos Tupinambás) while north-south streets are named after states (e.g. Rua Espírito Santo).

Arriving at the Praça da Liberdade, Robson began to have doubts about the path he had chosen (much to my inner delight). We decided to head back south, but unfortunately the traffic had become quite slow, even at 8:30 in the evening. The Praça da Liberdade has long been the civic and cultural heart of the city, and it was originally conceived to host the houses of state government, including the residence of the governor.

The Palácio da Liberdade can be seen here by daylight between two majestic columns of palm trees:

Praça da Liberdade

Praça da Liberdade

It has been decades since the governor resided in the Palácio, but it remains a symbol of state governance even as many other government buildings are being relocated outside of town (see prior post for more on this). The departure of government buildings has made room for additional cultural buildings, such as the Centro da Cultura and soon the Museu Clube da Esquina.

Even in the evening darkness, the square is bustling. Some walk circuits for exercise; others rush off to the nearby independent cinema; and still others relax at various restaurants, like the famous (or infamous?) Xodó offering fast-food and ice cream, or the popular Pizzeria Sur on the corner with Rua da Bahia. I watch the laughing and chatting figures as we round the three corners of the Praça da Liberdade to cruise south again.

Upon crossing the Avenida do Contorno, we leave centro behind us and near the correct neighborhood. Robson gives in and begins to ask what I had learned from GoogleMaps, though with an air of suspicion. And for good reason, as it turns out.

We follow my directions, but quickly lose the way. The road we followed simply changed names, and we didn’t run across the next street on my list. We turned right in order to head in the correct general direction, but after a few blocks, the street became one-way in the opposite direction. This is known as a contramão.

What to do now? We could not continue straight, so left seemed like the best option, but this too became a contramão as well as a “no right-turn” sign preventing us from staying on our path. Lovely. [Note: heavy sarcasm]. Que bonito.

We had no choice but to turn towards where we had come. Taking a little loop, we started over with the very first street we had started on in the neighborhood, but we fell into the same traps. All streets seemed to point back the way we had come.

We passed a boteco (small neighborhood pub) for the second time, and this time Robson got out to ask directions. I could tell just by the gestures of the people gathered there, that this was not the first time someone had asked for directions. The dono do boteco came out to the street and gestured what appeared to be very specific instructions. Several people inserted their own suggestions as Robson alternatively nodded or repeated back what they had said. Finally, the man repeated the entire set of directions a second (or third?) time, and Robson thanked everyone.

And we were off. Amazingly, the directions were accurate and involved a number of abrupt turns through the labyrinthine neighborhood. We even got back on track with my GoogleMaps directions. But we soon lost our way again, prompting me to lament, “Tanta contra-mão! [So many one-ways!]”. We asked directions two more times (at a gas station and a public square) before we finally pulled up to our destination.

I nervously checked my recording equipment and worried about how late we were. I had agreed to arrive at 9 pm for the interview (I shudder to admit that I had originally thought we were meeting at 9 AM, but that’s another story…), and Robson asked, “What time is it?”

“9:15,” I said nervously.

Ah, bom atraso.” Though I had never heard this phrase, having traveled and lived in Brazil already several times, I immediately understood its import. Though some might compare it to the English phrase “fashionably late,” that brings with it connotations of class (an elegant invitation-only party) that isn’t present in the Portuguese phrase. Bom atraso is more direct, more frank. It simply means “acceptable, good or even polite lateness.”

I smiled at my unintentional appropriateness. Had we not gotten lost, we would have arrived at least 10 minutes early. Though I can’t say it doesn’t exist, I have never heard the phrase bom precoçe (good earliness).

We spoke with the 24-hour doorman, and he let us into the building after calling up to confirm our appointment. We ascended in the elevator, walked the short hallway, and knocked on the apartment door … as butterflies fluttered in the pit of my stomach.

We were greeted warmly! After some brief introductions, our host asked if we found our way okay, and we laughingly admitted our evening hijinks.

Our host smiled knowingly at the story, then asked, “Did you use GoogleMaps?”